Why a tiny, fanged fish produces a pain-free bite

Fang blenny skull

Fang blenny skull

A meiacanthus nigrolineatus, which is a poisonous fish from the family of fang blennies. According to the magazine Science, blenny venom causes the victim's blood pressure to fall by around 40 percent for a short period of time. When injected into lab mice, this venom didn't seem to cause the animals any pain, which was surprising to say the least. The proteomic analysis found that the components were a neuropeptide that occurs in cone snail venom, a lipase that resembles one found in scorpions, and an opioid peptide.

Bryan Fry, from the University of Queensland, explained that fish with venomous spines on their bodies "produce immediate and blinding pain". In predator fish like grouper, though, the venom caused a more visceral response (likely due to the fact that fish are much smaller).

A CT scan of Meiacanthus grammistes, a venomous fang blenny species.

And while the team does not expect to develop new pain medications based on this discovery, Dr Casewell said it revealed just how much is still hidden in coral reefs, which are under threat around the world as sea temperatures rise. However, this is the first time they have noted bigger fish closing their mouths around blennies and spitting them right back out.

But it's their distinctive venom that drew Fry's attention.

"The venom causes the bitten fish to become slower in movement and dizzy by acting on their [nerve cells'] opioid receptors", he explained in a university news release.

"What's really unusual are these opioid-like neuropeptides called enkephalins, which don't induce pain", he says.

Fang blennies, even if they are small, feature a strong pair of canines, having a venomous bite.

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Instead it rapidly drops the blood pressure of predators.

These fish challenge predators several sizes bigger than them.

'Their secret weapons are two large grooved teeth on the lower jaw that are linked to venom glands'.

They live in the Pacific region, including on the Great Barrier Reef, and are popular as ornamental tropical aquarium fish. Zoologist George Losey, who observed the species up close in feeding experiments conducted in the 1970s, reported that predators that put fanged blenny into their mouth would experience violent quivering of their head.

The potentially useful toxin is found in the venomous fang blenny. Study co-author Bryan Fry surmises that this combination "can produce sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness".

Researchers described the uniqueness of the venom residing in the little fangs. "They fearlessly take on potential predators while also intensively fighting for space with similar sized fish", he says.

Prof Fry said the fang blenny was an "excellent example" of why nature and unique habitats must be protected, particularly the Great Barrier Reef.

This wouldn't be possible without protecting its habitat: Australia's world-famous Great Barrier Reef, which is now dying because of the effects of climate change.

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